tv Book TV Encore Booknotes CSPAN January 8, 2011 6:00pm-7:00pm EST
john mccaslin shared some of the stories and remembrances from his inside the beltway column he wrote for the "washington times" in the "chicago tribune."e c-span: john mccaslin, author of "inside the beltway," you finished the entire book and the acknowledgments by saying this. "finally, i am truly blessed to be the middle son of robert w. mccaslin, grandfather ofllle phinneas mccaslin and seven elder cohorts, and upon stoking his wood stove each morning, sits down to read every word i write." explain all that to us.wn >> guest: you know, the greatest compliment for any journalist comes from his mother.u my mom has passed away, so mym dad is still in the house wherec i grew up.
and my editor, wesley pruden, at e i grew up, and my editor, wesley prudin, at the washington times says don't write a story too long, constantly drilling that into the head of reporters, because in this day of information overload, nobody has time to read an entire story. we try to write shorter. i write very short in my stories of the capitol hill and white house. the only person he said will ever read every word you will write is your mother. i am glad to say my father has carried that on. >> how old? >> 87, still living in virginia. >> you talk about seven elder cohorts. >> all my nieces and nephews, and keeping my dad quite busy. still very politically astute at this age, being in proximity and shadow of the washington monument, but his grandchildren are keeping him busy. my way just to get them mentioned in the book. >> this book is about what?
>> basically compilation of the last 25 years of what i have experienced in journalism, going on my 25th year now, but i go back further, having grown up inside the beltway. i write a little bit about the history of washington, the history of alexandria, which was actually there before washington, d.c., george washington hometown, tell a lot of anecdotes, the revolutionary war through the civil war, then go right into the present day situation and the problems we are having in iraq today. >> 18,000 items. >> i have written, i figure, i have been writing the column now going on 13 years, about 18,000 anecdotes, and thousands of columns. in fact, when i compiled everything, just for research purposes, of what i have written only with regard to the inside the beltway column, i had so many books sitting on my floor that could have been written. it was very difficult to choose the best material to put in narrative form in this book. >> someone who has never been
here, what does inside the beltway mean? >> inside the beltway is obviously the beltway, 66-mile ring of heavy traffic that encircles washington, d.c. none of us local folks, i am sure yourself, like to even get on the beltway. it's a treachetreacherous drive, usually standstill, i might add, but also expression in washington, and i have written an entire chapter about what inside the beltway means, by going through all of my columns, as well as new fresh material, quoting all the senators and congressmen on capitol hill that talk about having this beltway malady. and it can be something negative. it can be something positive. if you make it so. but usually it's to the opposite extreme. you get caught up in washington and all the politics, all the shenanigans, and it's like a syndrome. >> you don't tell us -- i think i know, though, from the history of the story, about the senator that walked into the closet. what's that about? >> well, you know, the reason i didn't name him is because i was
hosting rush limbaugh one day, and i did mention him, and he denied it, but it was kind of hard for him to deny wholeheartedly because i happened to be in the room at the time as well as one of my colleagues, who corroborated the story for me, so i if he felt safe to go with it. the reason i didn't mention him, there's enough litigation in washington, i figured, why put the name in and get in trouble. he got up, after grilling witness, very forcefully, and stepped into the back of the panel area, as if he was going to exit, and i think he did think he was leaving the room and walked into a closet. he went into the closet and stayed in there for a few seconds, i think very embarrassed, obviously. he must have been paying homage to the brooms and mops. then he came out as if he had intended the entire time to have stepped into the closet, then exited the hearing room, so it was quite a sight. >> correct me if i'm wrong, midwest, no longer in the united states senate, republican are we close? >> i think so, yes.
>> i don't want to get in trouble either. >> you talk about 9/11. and the pentagon. where were you when that plane hit the pentagon? >> in washington. many of us live in virginia or maryland suburbs. i happen to live in virginia and was just getting in the usual line of motorists that every morning cross the 14th street bridge into washington, one of our more famous bridges. the pentagon at that point is to your left. and i write about listening as all the other motorists were to what was taking place in new york city. we have one tower hit, then another tower got hit. and upon the strike of the second tower, i looked up and noticed that a very bright orange and blue jet was taking off into this crystal blue sky that we had here in washington that day. it was just a beautiful day. and i thought to myself, how can this jet be taking off when the f.a.a., more than anybody, has to realize what's going on in new york city?
and it was at that almost precise instant that over my left shoulder, in came this american airlines flight on its twisted path, obviously the terrorists aboard, and in my -- in fact, i felt the impact before i heard it. it was just like this pop. and over my left shoulder, obviously we saw the mushroom cloud, so to speak, the explosion. i proceeded over the 14th street bridge, looking in my rear-view mirror at the sky just filled with smoke. did a u turn not far from the c-span studios here, drove back across the 14th street bridge, literally arriving there before any of the emergency personnel. and it was a horrific several hours. i was there as they were bringing the injured out. some of the victims out. they would put them beneath the shade of the tree, and i was phoning in reports at the time. and then my thoughts turned to my family as george bush said later, everybody's thoughts in this country turned to their
families and their children and future and safety. we have never had anything like this obviously happen. i proceeded at that point, instead of going in to work, to drive to get my daughter from the school in alexandria, and then went home and wrote the most difficult column of my life. >> why was it hard? >> i think because of what i had seen personally. you know, i thought of oklahoma city at first. we weren't sure exactly what had happened at first, and i was standing at the pentagon next to their day care center, which is no longer there, by the way, and there were trisickles, you could tell, where the children were just snatched up and taken by the personnel to safety after the explosion. and i think it was for once witnessing something firsthand, and it so happened, ironically, that several weeks later the senate office building is one of my regular places, i park near there, and get into the senate building where the subway runs beneath, jump on the subway, which is private subway for congressional folks to go to the senate press gallery. i happened to be in the senate
office building when the anthrax envelope was opened up by tom daschle's secretary. i went through the entire testing procedure, etc., it was easier in retrospect to write both about the pentagon and what happened in the senate office building from a firsthand standpoint, having witnessed it and experienced it, and it terrified me, it really did. obviously it was a very deadly pair of incidents in the nation's capitol, as well as new york city. for once, i experienced them firsthand, as i said. >> this is three years later. how has it changed your job? >> i think probably 75% of what i write today is somehow 9/11 or its wake related, and what we are doing with everything from the 9/11 commission and how we can make this country safer, immigration is now playing a much bigger role. it's on the minds of more americans, so i write a lot about the immigration problems, both legal and illegal immigration, and as we try to
shore up our borders, it's a tremendous task, daunting, still frightening. we have a long way to go. i think many americans, especially in washington, new york, where alert levels are higher, are waiting consequence stantly for the other shoe to drop. i pray it never does. >> you give joseph fara, world net daily, credit to writing the book. you host from time to time the rush limbaugh show. you write in the washington times. is it fair to assume you are conservative or republican? >> no, in fact, i think rush limbaugh's producers would be the first ones to tell you that they have come in during commercial breaks and said, you know, rush feels this way on that point. do you want to take a position? i said, look, i have got to go back, and i have to work with bill frist and tom daschle. i have to try to retain what we learned in journalism 101, even though i am licensed as a columnist to state my opinion, i usually don't, but readers of the column can read between the lines. i will sometimes try to make a
point that way, but when i have been a guest on certain shows, i have tried not to go as a conservative or as a moderate. i do consider myself in the middle of the road. i agree with some of what the republican party stands for, but i disagree on other points. it's the same way with the democrats. >> if somebody doesn't live here most don't, how can they read you? >> i am online every day. there's a link on the drudge report, which i guess is still one of the most visited website, washington times.com is our specific website, one of the still free websites to get into, news related, and town hall.com carries my syndicated column through the chicago tribune. >> where do you work every day? what is the environment? >> usually the capitol hill area. and i will pop into the white house every now and then. but i can tell you that since george bush has averaged in town it's a different beast than it was for the eight years bill clinton was in town, and i go back to having covered the reagan administration as
correspondent. despite scandals in clinton administration, they were very open. you could pick up the phone, you would get a phone call back. george bush laid down the law not too far into his presidency that few people were to speak obviously without getting permission. andy cartt i think learned that in rather embarrassing, because it happened to be caught on camera, something he said out of school, so there's very little we can call from the west wing. i think people are afraid to talk, so there's much fewer visits into the white house than there used to be. >> how much of what you write every day, how many items most columns? >> usually six or seven anecdotes, 23.5 inches every day for the layman, you put two rulers on end, put it in a straight column, that's how mu much. >> how much is phoned in to you because you have established reputation? >> i think the most important tool is rolodex, and the more
you can have with bureaucracy, the better. i get phone calls every day, emails, now that we are into the internet age. i stumble across things, people i see, i will write about. that happens quite frequently, so you still walk the beat in washington, but obviously telecommunications has changed the beast a little bit in terms of journalism as well. >> have you done any surveys to know how many people come to your column? >> i have been told the inside the beltway column is the second most visited site on the washington times website. >> in 1994, i believe you visited century city. >> century city. i was extremely honored as a young reporter to cover the white house. i was 27 years of age. i think at the time i was probably the youngest regular white house correspondent, and it was a very intriguing and eye opening several years for me. the day that edwin meece the third left the white house as
one of president reagan's aides, to go to the justice department was the day i left, and as i wrote, returned to reality, because i knew i probably shouldn't have been there. several years later, my daughter was born, and i wanted her to meet president reagan, and i telephoned fred ryan, who was one of ronald reagan's top aides over the years, and is now vice president of communications in washington, a television network so to speak. and i mentioned to fred that i was going to california to see friends, and i would love to stop by and see president reag reagan. fred got back to me later and said, could you come a few days earlier than what you proposed? and i didn't hesitate. i said certainly. and had my daughter wear a red dress because ronald reagan used to like to call on the red dressed ladies in the east wing during the news conferences. the thinking was that the red caught his eye, as opposed to the beauty, like other presidents might select their
questioners. and it was a wonderful hour. i think sitdown like that is usually supposed to last 10 minutes. they come and take a few pictures. we got back to washington. my daughter, i believe, was only 6 or 7 years of age at the time. and probably a few days later, wonderful inscriptions arrived with these photographs. ronald reagan was known for usually signing his name. he wrote wonderful tribute to my daughter about the red dress, about her future. and similarly, wrote inscription like that to me, recalling all the travels which i had brought up during the meeting with him. and i wrote about it. i wrote about how he was not impressed with the smog of los angeles. here's a guy that was never once ever credited for being an environmentalist, and for five minutes, he just talked about how his view is now ruined of the pacific ocean. he talked about his ranch and the outdoors and how he loved it. that was sort of the flavor. i talked a little bit about maggie thatcher, who was his, i
think, favorite of all leaders in the free world. and it shocked me, several days later, when there was this announcement that he was suffering from alzheimer's disease, and i realized then what fred ryan might have done for me, extreme honor, and retrospect, i will never forget that day and that opportunity, and we have just buried him, and i am very happy to say that i am going to be going out to the reagan library later this fall for a book signing, and i am looking forward to that. >> your daughter, carey, is that your only child? >> yes. >> how old today? does she remember? >> 16, she does remember. we have the photograph displayed in our living room. she and i were in london when the president passed away this past summer, and we were glued to the television set despite the tourist schedule we had over there.
her first trip and my first trip together to london, and we watched the bbc for hours on end. >> when you were not very much older than your daughter, carey, age 20, you met -- interviewed number named elizabeth ray. >> the mistress of capitol hill at the time in the era, who became famous for the quote, i have never even learned to type. i believe she was paid more than $40,000 a year by wayne hayes, congressman, and the scandal came out, and elizabeth ray, after spilling her soul, to the press, decided to go through some spiritual training, so to speak. and that was accomplished at st. mary's catholic church in alexandria, virginia, where my mother happened to be the secretary. and i had heard through my mom that elizabeth ray was calling. none of that got out to the press, because she wanted to have some privacy in the wake of what had transpired.
it was a huge scandal in washington. and to make a long story short, i came home for a friend's funeral in alexandria, who had passed away at very young age. who in the midst of my mourning, saw her, but elizabeth ray. i knew it was her because she had just beared her soul in play boy magazine. i was in college at the time. we had seen the magazine there, passed it around the dormitory. so literally, the day before my journalism professor at old dominion university in norfolk had given us assignment of interviewing pillar of the community, alderman, police chief or judge, looking at that blonde come out of the church, i could see no better pillar and approached her and asked if i could interview her. again, this was in the height of the controversy. and five minutes later, we were seated at my kitchen table. my mother didn't know what to make of her son's first scoop. and i had a tremendous interview. thank heavens, i recorded it
because i was hyper ventilating during the entire time. and it landed on the front page of my college newspaper, was picked up by one of the wire services in norfolk, virginia, and went national, and that's, i think, when i got bit by the bug of journalism. >> where is elizabeth ray today? >> you know, the last time i saw where elizabeth ray was, i was in west chicago, illinois, and i went by a pancake house, and up on the marquis, it said appearing tonight, elizabeth ray. i know she had gone to new york, which i wrote that exclusive in the story, she was going to study acting around lee strasburg. i don't think the acting worked out. i think she went into the lounge singing circuit. i think that's what she was doing at this pancake house, which at night was serving things other than pancakes. i have no idea where she is now. >> how many years of your life have you lived in alexandria, virginia? >> all my life there, except from 1980, through college, i was in norfolk. then 1980 to 1984, i launched my
journalism career, montana, there four years before coming back to cover the reagan white house. >> what was the impact of old dominion university, college then? >> university. it used to be the norfolk division of william and mary at williamsburg. >> what was the impact of that education on you? >> it was a wonderful education. i had a great journalism professor. i majored in speech communication, so when i did move to montana, i came back home to washington, and 1980, that period, there weren't the internships that there are now, nor did we have the 24-hour capable news channels, which obviously are always looking for people, including interns, and it was an acquaintance at cbs that said you have to go somewhere and get experience, and i explained, but i am from washington. what does a guy do who grew up here? >> harrisburg, pennsylvania, butte, montana. i went to kalispell, montana, where my grandfather used to be deputy sheriff. there was no more beautiful
place in the country i knew of. teddy roosevelt used to call it little switzerland. wonderful four years in rocky mountains, president reagan came out twice, vice president bush came out twice, once to fish, once to camp in glacier park, which i was privileged to accompany him on. and james watt used to use glacier national park -- those were -- all of his days were very controversial, but james watt, as i wrote, used to practice reverse psychology on the green by standing before cascading waterfall of the park to announce unpopular environmental initiatives, and so there was a lot of national news that i could report there more experience probably than i would have gotten in harrisburg, in retrospect. >> you say former secretary of state watt taught you a lesson. >> he did. there was one day he was in glacier. >> first of all, for those who never heard of him, when was he secretary of the interior?
>> first half of the reagan administration, 1980 probably through 1983, i believe was when he resigned, if i am not wrong. >> what was his image? >> i think as far as media was concerned, not only anti-environmentalist, but he made headlines. i think the most resounding, when he banned the beach boys from national mall here in washington because of budgetary reasons, and anybody would think back then, oh, you know, that's not that big of a deal, but the media had a heyday with it, and dogged him until his last days in office. >> lesson he taught you. >> my radio station, where i worked, was going from 10,000 watts to 50,000, and i typed up this clever little promotion that i handed to him in a bathroom in glacier national park because he wasn't in the mood to do interviews that day. i thought, this is my only chance. followed him in, no place for him to turn, standing there, facing porcelain walls. pulled out my tape recorder, with his permission, short time later, and he read this promo
filled with the word watt because of the fact we were changing watts, not only that, it was his last name. he stumbled over his name several times. and we had to do several takes, and i had promised him, don't worry. i will only use the one final take, but it was so hilarious to me, his difficulty with reading this, that i soon became part of this pack that was after him, and aired the entire thing on the radio during that evening's lighter side of the newscast. little did i know james watt would be listening in his car as he was driving from glacier park to international airport, which is in the flat head valley. no sooner did he reach the airport than he picked up the phone, this is the kind of guy he was, and telephoned me at the studios, and i was embarrassed, gone against my word, and credibility is the most important thing for a journalist. i think it takes time to learn that. i did not know it at the time, but he taught me the lesson of credibility, and i think he
forgave me a few weeks later, 8 by 10 photograph of both of us taken in glacier park by a photographer, arrived in the mail, and he had inscribed to john mccaslin, thanks for breaking me into radio, james watt, and resigned about a month later. >> first couple of chapters are about, among other things, grizzly bears. >> apart from infrequent trips by politicians to montana, surrounded by beautiful country, within this country lives largest population of bears in the lower 48 united states. glacier park, i believe, has hundreds, several hundred, 600 or 700 bears, and while i was there, we had the famous book the year of the grizzly, or the night of the grizzly, i should say, written back in the 1970's. i happened to experience in my
first year, the year of the grizzlies, when we had flee people killed by bears within the first couple months of my arrival. and they make for great stories. sad as some of them turned out to be, there's some humorous tales as well. i am not sure what my publisher thought about me writing about grizzly bears, on chapter on book of shenanigans in washington, d.c., but i think readers will delight, and segues perfectly into the white house. covering one is not far from the other. >> bob bennett story. >> attorney here in washington, who many believed help keep the former president out of the clinker. the great thing about the state of montana, if anybody has any connection to it, you learn about it, especially in a small city that washington, d.c., actually is in many ways. bob bennett and i on several occasions would talk about montana. he had a house out there, not far from where i lived, and he had an encounter of a grizzly
bear, nearly was killed. charged. he and another photographer standing on top, having daily meal, cubs nearby. and a mother will always protect her cubs. that's her first instinct. they immediately dropped to the fetal position, which you are supposed to do, and play dead. and if you are dead, a grizzly bear will leave you alone for that period of time and then come back, and probably become a victim if you stayed in that position for too long, but normally when the bear walks off you scamper as fast as you can out of there. mr. bennett did do that and lived to tell about it. >> there's so many stories, i am just going to jump around as i find one, and see how much i can get from you on the story. the story of barbara bush and yeltsin. do you remember? if you don't remember, i have the page. >> no, i do remember that. that was -- and i write about so many of the political figures in washington. first ladies included. barbara bush was quintessential
first lady, obviously hillary clinton who followed was a different style of first lady, one we had not seen in washington for a while, so we didn't hear too often about barbara bush, but it was after they left the white house that she told a story of an encounter she had with boris yeltsin, who obviously was a tremendous world-wide figure at the time. and he -- and i can't wait for readers to delve into it, because there's more to the story. but to make it short, he talked about what it meant for a gentleman to tap the foot of a lady, beneath the table, while they were having dinner. and he was doing this with mrs. bush and explained to her what it meant. she got a big kick out of that. but the style of woman she was, she waited until she left office to tell the tale. >> in this country, yeltsin continued, it means the woman loves the man. without realizing it, i began grinding his foot into the ground with my foot, mrs. bush explained, and obviously impressed, russian leader, later scribbled note to the first lady on white house menu, you stepped
on my foot. you knew what it meant. and i felt the same way. where did you find something like that? >> i got it from mrs. bush later when she remarked about it in a setting where i happened to be. i don't recall exactly where it was. but i did write that in my column. >> the chapter named erin brochovich, dash, of course. what is in that? >> i write about al gore. obviously in our lifetime, there will probably never be another election like the election of 2000, and we all woke up the morning after the election thinking we would have a president of the united states. i know my newspaper, for instance, changed its headlines three or four times overnight, from president bush to president gore back to president bush back to president gore, and then florida came into play, and then i think our last headline of the day was undecided. and we went along for several weeks like this, and during that period, as we all recall, al gore was doing everything
possible to become the president of the united states, which he felt was rightfully his and deserved. and finally, when it got down to the final day or two, he would have done anything, and i quote his aide, who al gore awakened in the middle of the night, i believe it was in tennessee, and said, i have an idea. let's get erin brochovich to plead my case. she did such a great job. the movie was based on her, what she did with regard to environmental dump site. he thought if he could employ her help, he could become president. even the aide thought it was ridiculous, and said, of course. >> one of the best thing about being a political columnist, you get to interview anybody you want. for me, al gore was always somebody else's interview. you are leading into interview with christie brinkley. >> after that, kim alexis.
i requested interview with al gore. i must say, i did talk to him on several occasions, but when you would encounter him. i never had sit-down interview with him, as many reporters were able to do during the very stressful period in his life. instead, the white house said, could you call this model, christie brinkley, a big supporter of al gore, and interview her. i am like any red blooded male american, i said, of course i could. we had intriguing conversation about politics. the woman obviously supported al gore and told me the same. she also gave me some interesting quotes about why she didn't like president bush. she could not understand why women were attracted to president bush physically. some incredible mail after that to my column, one gentleman, said what does christie brinkley think her attributes are? why does she think we pay attention to her, if not her looks? he thought it was ironic she would say that about president bush. >> why do we pay attention to
actresses? >> i happened to do an interview recently. my first ever interview on vh 1. it was very difficult because of the questions they asked me. i am used to answering rather difficult to the point questions about life on capitol hill. and their audience was more interested in who wears the nicest neck ties, who is the most pampered, who was surrounded by the most prestigious folks. and there's no secret that the democrats in washington are followed very closely and supported very closely financially and with regard to public speaking engagements by most of hollywood. it's different, i think, for the republicans. so i think that's one reason. i think that christie brinkley falls into that mold. i do write in that chapter that after interviewing christie brinkley, i only thought it fair to interview kim alexis, who happened to be outspoken supporter of george bush. as many people called me. she was going so fast as to fast
to show america we needed to elect republican president after eight years of the clinton white house. >> you have what you call it, verse by another book, titled unbridled joy? >> yes. >> when did he publish that book? >> about two or three years ago. and sent me a signed copy. and i was very happy to review it for my column and include a few passages. it wasn't lynn's first. he has a couple published volumes of these great poems. >> wrote them himself? >> yes. >> this one says, i wonder if we will ever see a country that is clinton free. a time when hillary and bill have left us and gone over the hill. a time when they don't think they mean each one to be our president, to tell us all what's best for us, to defy us to make a fuss, to insist they are meant to rule us, sure as always, they can fool us. a time when they at last have quit their drinking from the
public tit, when bill no longer wags his jaw, instead goes home to arkansas, and hillary no longer runs but takes to baking hot crossed buns. why was that interesting to you? >> well, i think we all got a kick about writing about her cookies, that she was not the type of wife that stays home or mother and bakes cookies, that she was going to have an impact in washington. we obviously saw through eight years of the clinton administration that she did play as i mentioned earlier, rather unusual unprecedented role for first lady in the country, starting out with health care. she wanted to begin writing the nation's prescriptions. that failed. there were many other causes she took up. she got quite a following through all the turmoil that she went through, both personal and will with regard to what she tried to accomplish in the white house. and that helped her become elected senator of new york. and there are many in this town who believe, and i am included, she will run for president in
the year 2008. >> for a columnist like you, what does that all mean? >> the hot crossed buns or the fact she is climbing the ladder the way she does? >> if she becomes more prominent than she is now, and runs, let's say she wins someday. is that good or bad for columnist is that. >> that would be very good. it's been difficult three and a half years for me in light of the fact that george bush is the boy scout that he is. he goes to bed every night between 9:00 and 9:30. his wife is nothing like hillary rodham clinton. there's no point scouring the east wing for scandals that she might have. she is a librarian, after all. a wonderful woman. as was mrs. clinton. but you know, it's going to be intriguing to look forward to the next four years, depending on the outcome of the 2004 election, to see what happens, and i wouldn't be surprised if we had a rematch of the early new york senate race between
hillary rodham clinton and rudy giuliani, very intriguing for not only me but any columnist in the nation's capitol. >> chapter 7 fruit cake, i point out congressmen and senators are no different than you and me. they are dog walkers. they are den mothers. they are boy scout leaders. and like you and i, sometimes they lose their temper. the fruit cakes quote came most recently in late 2003 during one altercation between two congressmen during a hearing on capitol hill in much one repeatedly called the other one, and this is in a crowded hearing room, obviously televised by c-span, so you have children watching. you have these adults who we elect to capitol hill calling each other fruit cakes. i have devoted an entire chapter to that, which gets in more to the definition of this beltway malady that we discussed earlier. but we have had capitol hill policemen that have had to have
been called that have had to have been called to separate warring congressmen. some of the altercations become physical. >> let's see. beltway fever, warren senator rod grahams, not hear here any longer, fall victim to unreal atmosphere of this place and eventually forget what it was that first propelled them into public office. is it unreal here? >> it is at times. that gets into the whole term limits, how long should these senators and congressmen be serving on capitol hill? we have people like robert byrd, who i believe have on the outlasted 10 presidents. claude pepper, a wonderful law-maker. i can remember one north dakota democrat going into his office and pointing out in my column, i couldn't believe it. he had just been elected to capitol hill. and he walked in to meet claude pepper, who had been here for years, and behind his desk was a photograph of orville or wilbur
wright, i forget which one, inscribed to claude pepper. the man who invented flight. below that was a photograph from neil armstrong after he had stepped foot on the moon, inscribed. that's how long that man had served on capitol hill. so some of them do get caught up and by no means am i being disrespectful to claude pepper who had a wonderful career, but there is argument out there, those in favor of term limits, we should spend less time on capitol hill because we forget why we are here. >> senator van knight, of colorado, if you stay here too long, you become part of the problem. you become beltway animal, quitting, going back home. how often do people quit? >> there was therio back in the early 1990's, when an entire freshman house made the point when they got here, they were going to stay for i think three terms maximum. you had people like mark san ford of south carolina, now
the governor, keep true to that. some of them did not. beltway animal, ben knighthorse campbell, he is quitting. how often do others? it happens from time to time. most are voted out. he had sitdown with me one time, five, six, seven years ago. he opened up for an hour and a half about the attacks he was taking, not only the democratic party, because he switched parties and became republican in mid stride on capitol hill, but from constituents back home. they never gave up on that. >> you devote a couple of pages to stephanie tubbs jones, a congress woman, and mel martinez running for the senate in florida. why? >> one of the most outspoken outbursts that i have ever experienced in two decades of governing capitol hill was very rude and readers will understand that when they read the entire transcript, which i think speaks for itself. i wanted to put it all in there, so readers would understand.
after i put that in my column, i was inundated with email. she basically was a warrior, a prosecutor, during mel martinez' first inaugural testimony on capitol hill. as a bush administration official. taking out her frustrations on public housing, on mr. martinez. even though it was more george bush's doing. and the entire administration. she was admonished by the committee chair woman who said she had never heard anything like that. and one column will feed another column, as i have found out. i write five days a week, and within a day, i heard from the congress woman, who explained her position to me, and i put that in there. but i think it gives the reader a flavor of how dicey it can get on capitol hill. there's a lot of fighting that goes on here. we had a congressman one day who i also write about in the book
who showed up for a committee hearing and opened up his jacket to show he had a bullet proof vest on. it was more in jest, but just pointed to point out, i am prepared today to take it from all sides. >> you write south carolina senator, hollings, also retiri retiring. they give you six year term in the u.s. senate, two years to be a statesman. the next two years to be a politician. and the last two years to be a demogogue. regrettably, hollings said, we are not afforded two years as statesman. we go straight to politics right after election. >> i think you are seeing a lot now in 2004 presidential election, very divisive. that obviously streams down into the congressional and senate races going on this year as we well. i think that also gets into the reign of how long congressman serves. that's debated. should they serve two years, a
senator serves six. is two years enough, i say that because no sooner does the house side of congress get elected, within six months, you are running for re-election, as long as the campaign takes, and obviously you have the other side, democratic or republican, gearing up in the wings to challenge you, so a campaign almost begins instantaneously again for re-election after you take office on the house side. >> what is your daily time deadline for your column? >> i have a late afternoon, early evening deadline. i can update through 10:00 at night, if i happen to go to event and something happens. i try not to do that too often. but when you do write five days a week, two days for syndicate, that's basically seven columns every four and a half days. which is tremendous amount of writing. i am always writing the next day's column, perhaps the day after that, the same day i am writing the following column. >> biggest response you ever got from some item. >> you know, i think of what has
happened of late to cbs, and these allegations that this phony document with regard to george bush's national guard service is real or not. and i have been burned a few times, so when i think of impact i think of what has embarrassed me the most. i have had that happen to me before. my first reaction after i heard that was thank god that wasn't me because with the advent of the computer, people are so capable today of altering photographs, as we have seen in the past, documents as perhaps we are seeing again. and you have to be very careful today. so i think the biggest impact you have in my mind is what you have done wrong, because people love to jump on that. i would say probably exclusive surrounding the presidency, if you can get interest out of the white house, all these big stories, but there's no way i think i can pinpoint one as much as i have written over the years. >> how about your biggest mistake?
>> several of them. one had to do with ken lay of enron. we got very late inry late in afternoon. in fact, it was pointed out by one of my colleagues, here's an incredible list of things that the democrats are saying, you know, this white house has done, and i threw it into the column without checking it as much as i should have, and one of the points, one of the talking points was that ken lay had spent the night at the white house during the clinton administration, which never happened before. he had visited the white house, and i just didn't pay attention to that. something like that really comes back to haunt you. the coverup in washington, as many politicians and journalists don't understand, the coverup is the biggest problem. that's when it can really hurt you. so as fast as you can get a correction and a retraction in the paper, the better. there was one other story that haunts me, but there's nothing i could really do about it, because my source stood by it, and that was president clinton's last day in
washington. george bush had just taken the oath of office, and as a kind gesture, allowed president clinton to take what was air force one to new york, he doesn't have that title when the president is flying aboard it, and i had a very good source within the aircraft, worked for the military, tell me that the plane was -- as has happened, i fly on air force one myself. we all like souvenirs. i even took presidential m&m's. things like bath robes would be swiped periodically. i think the air force came to expect that. this steward basically told me that more had been taken by the clinton staff than they had seen in a long time, all the way down to the colgate toothpaste underneath the sink. i wrote it, and i must say the word stripped was used, and when it hit the streets the next day, it snowballed beyond that to where the plane was basically all but disassembled by the clinton administration, and this was on board with the president and a few days later
president bush came out and basically stated that did not happen. i was in a situation where i couldn't say, ok, this document was phony, i apologize, because i had a source who stood by the story. but it didn't make me look good, and i've never forgotten that. you have to be very careful. >> how often are items you print picked up by others without credit? >> you know, what made me write this book, i looked in so many indexes and saw so many of my items, i thought, why don't i write my own book? it happens periodically. it's the old rid and read syndrome that we always accuse broadcast media doing. we're always in the trenches, unlike a lot of broadcast reporters. we do all the writing for the most part. i think it not only happens to me, it happens to other journalists on a daily basis. some try to make an extra effort to give you credit, but other times, i think once they read your story, this is kind. practice now. they can call up the clintons or whoever we're writing about,
corroborate what you wrote, and then they don't have to quote you. >> you term a story about senator bob byrd going to the white house for dinner with george bush. what's that? >> very kind jeps tour on the part of george bush. the first guests in the white house after he assumed the oval office from bill clinton happened to be a democrat and his wife, robert byrd, the senior democrat in washington, d.c., today. i mentioned before he has outlasted so many presidents, and bobby bid and his wife, i believe her name is irma was invited by president bush and first lady laura bush to sit down for their first dinner in the white house. as i said, not only was it a very kind gesture and reach across the aisle, but it was very telling, something robert byrd said after the dinner, when asked what impressed you most about this new president of the united states, and robert byrd said, the fact that he said grace after a meal,
after his meal, is what impressed him the most. and i'm not sure if he was referring to the previous eight years and the lack of grace in the white house or not, but that definitely had an impact on robert byrd. >> but when i read it, i thought, it's interesting, the quote here is i like the fact that he had grace. he asked god's blessing upon the food, and in many circles, the word god, except in a profane use, is taboo. then he went on to write a very critical book of george bush. >> no doubt. >> so i wondered what difference did it make. if he clearly doesn't like anything he's doing. >> well, foremost, i think robert byrd is a politician, and he stands by the democratic party, and i think several things george bush has done since then, some of his policies obviously have not resonated with robert byrd, and as you say, he's one of the most outspoken lawmakers on capitol hill, and there's hardly a day that goes by that
he doesn't have something to say about president bush and what he would do if he were in his shoes. >> the title. next chapter after that one was chapter 11, splaining and canoodling. >> in fact, i think it was orrin hatch what wondered what kanoodling meant, and it basic am meant hanky-panky. that he wants the chapter that i devote to basically the monica lewinsky affair. and so many people in this country will recall that it was a very uncomfortable time for everybody, not just for president clinton and first lady hillary clinton, but many of us, including the senior senator of new york, where suddenly explaining to our daughters and sons what some of these things meant. children were talking about monica lewinsky. they all knew about this blue dress. well, what was that on the blue dress? it was almost x-rated for several days. as i pointed out, i even turned on abc this week with sam
donaldson and cokie roberts, and they were grilling the guest about this blue dress stain and questioning, are you sure it wasn't a guacamole stain? as i pointed out, it would have been difficult to even have a child watching television on sunday morning and listening to this sort of thing and to explain that there were other uses for cigars suddenly. so it's a very embarrassing situation, i think, for everybody, including parents. i've got some firsthand accounts there of what came out of the mouths of innocent babes that their parents would write in and tell me about, just to give a flavor of what the country was going through at that time. >> you have a list here, you said all told by one republican count that the clinton white house and two terms attracted 61 indictments or misdemeanor charges, 33 convictions, 14 imprisonments, seven independent counsel investigations, 72 congressional witnesses pleading the fifth amendment. i don't need to go on. but when i read that, i thought, you could do the same thing with the next administration. >> yeah. >> what is it about this town
that this kind of thing happens? >> well, i think that goes back to the whole, you know, definition of what the inside the beltway label means. i think that the power can go to your head in washington. i think that happens worldwide. you know, there's some -- some say that the bushes are a monarchy similar to the british crown and throne in this country. they have one president follow another with his same name, but then i point out al gore had the same name as his father, and his father was a very well known politician. so is that the reason they're there? well, probably most likely. it was a great steppingstone for them. but, you know, power is very important. i think that was one excuse that bill clinton used with regard to monica lewinsky being attracted to him, and any young woman they said would be attracted to somebody of such stature. and this is obvious am the seat of government and power in this country, so this is where it
happened, and this is why i have so much for other a deem basis to report. >> where do you physically do your writing? >> i do my writing in washington. we have our office here on new york avenue. we have computer terminals on capitol hill and the white house for our white house people. we have bureaus throughout the area like most newspapers do as you get out into the surrounding suburbs. and in this day and age, it's very comfortable for me to do a lot of my writing out of my own den at home. >> how often does somebody call you from any administration or source and say, here's an item for you? but when you print it, i will continue it. >> you asked me what one of my biggest exclusives was, and that happened. the head of the office of special investigations in the justice department back when i was covering justice, and i was the first reporter in the united states to report that they were about to joseph joseph mengele, and i basically
bugged neil for months, because we had some rumblings that they were close to doing this, and he finally called me up one day after telling me nothing for months, and, you know, what were the chances that they would find this man after 40 some years on my beat the second i took it over? well, they weren't very good odds, and i was stunned when he called up and said, do you like chinese food? i said of course. we went down, we had lunch in a chain ease restaurant. we talked mostly about just paperwork. he had a son who was interested in being a newspaperman. i thought, oh, this was the point of this watch. and i said i can't go back to the paper without a story. >> one of the things you say for people that watch this network was you were pushed on this story for years. >> a very persistent editor, a great world war ii veteran, he's covered countless wars as a war correspondent, and as i pointed out, he never gave up the search for nazi war criminals. we were pulling dozens of them out of cities like cleveland and off of farms that accompanied the united states, and deporting them back to face
charges after all these years. and one of the biggest of them all, which was joseph mengele. i wrote this story up that neil gave me, the trail anticipates gotten hot. he denied saying it the next day, so that precisely is what happened. and i felt terrible, u.p.i. immediately wrote a dispatch over the wire saying despite what john mccaslin had written today, the trail is cold. well, there's not any more bigger denial than that by neil, and within one hour, another bulletin crossed out of brazil that they had unearthed what they thought was mengele he is' remains, and i was on the plane with neil, who was ignoring me again, but it turned out it was his remains. >> most of the time you don't hear the full story. does neil know you're talking about the fact that he didn't term you the truth? >> yeah. he did tell me the truth. but i think he kind of figured it out after a couple of days that the way i wrote it that i realized. in retrospect, he'd done me a
wonderful favor. >> but again, the question, how often do people plant stories with you and then later on the administration denies it and you know that it came from inside the administration? >> well, not only me, but the "new york times" and "the washington post" frequently have this happen. like us, they have a huge readership. administrations will often use the word float, float a story, just to see what kind of reaction we're going to get. it might be a policy initiative that they'd like to propose, but they're not sure whether they should do it. is the climate right? you will put the seed in your column or you will put the seed perhaps on the front page of your newspaper, and obviously the broadcast media will then take it up. they will gauge the reaction. hey, if it's not going to go, if it's not going to work based on that reaction because the democrats and the republicans are shouting about it on capitol hill, it didn't come from us. one of my favorite stories, george bush was tired of administration officials, you
know, within his white house speaking on background, and he issued a memo, which i write about in the book, this was less than a year ago, saying, there will be no more stories out of the west wing if the person stating or giving the story to the reporter is going to be quoted as an unnamed administration official, and my source was an unnamed administration open official. so i had a double story there. >> you pant a picture about george bush, i don't know if i've ever seen had before, about him being a gopher for a senator. where did you get that? >> it comes from a gentleman who is often mistaken for ted turner who's the president of the 60-plus association here in washington. and he hired george bush right out of college for his first job, which was on gurney's campaign in florida to basically herd the reporters on and off the airplane and into their hotel room, similar to what we have right now today when you travel with the white house. you always have aides with you
that represent the president and help you on and off the buses, what have you, and george bush did this. he apparently did a pretty good job because gurney got elected. >> what do you think of george bush? >> he thought he was a good campaign worker and perhaps he could follow in his father's footsteps, and by golly, he did. >> how much did the f.b.i. plan your life and did you ever know j. he had war hoover? >> i met j. he had war hoover on several occasions as a young man. the day i took over the justice department, i requested an interview with ted olson, who was one of the assistant attorneys general, because he had hoover's old office. the only reason i wanted that interview was to go in and see hoover's office again. i never told olson that. and my father was an f.b.i. agent for 37 years under j. he had war hoover. my mother worked in the f.b.i. for several years. that's how she met my father before she went over to become the secretary and help me on my career path. and, you know, there wasn't one night you wouldn't come back
from school and dad would come home from work thaw didn't hear a great story about j. he had war hoover or something going on in the f.b.i. >> did your dad like mr. hoover? >> very much so. he's one of those agents that has stood by him, as has daloche underneath hoover. from racism to homosexualism to things like that, as well as somebody like ray oneal, another friend of my father's, who also wrote a book. >> where did you meet your wife? >> i met my wife at the white house. she was an intern. she was one that did land an internship and was there covering the visit, i believe, of the turkish government and their leader to the white house. and i think as a favor, the head of the p.r. firm said, well, why don't we let her go over. i laid eyes on her covering president reagan, and we were married 13 month says later.
>> what do you have that you want to do in this business before you get out of it? i assume you have a few years left. >> well, you know, if you ever relinquish your seat, i admire nobody more than brian lamb here in washington. as i write about in my book, which is not why i'm here today. i don't want to say there's anything unethical about this interview. but i do enjoy broadcasts. i've always enjoyed radio. perhaps a radio show. but i think i will always write, there's nothing more important than the written word. >> our guest has been john mccaslin. this is the book called "inside the beltway: offbeat stories, scoops, and shenanigans fromrom >> to view this another booknotes programs on line, visit notes.org.
>> we are here at the national press club talking with author ted gup about his new book, "a secret gift." can you tell us what is the secret gift? >> the secret gift was sick gift made in the depth of the deep depression in 1933 by an anonymous donor, 250 families and his identity remained unknown for 75 years. two years ago a suitcase was handed to me that contained hundreds of letters from that period and the identity of that secret donor who was my grandfather. >> and can you tell us more about the gift, what was the donation? >> the gift was $5 to 150 families who had written to him and for the last two years i have tracked down their
descendents to find out what the gift meant to them. did it affect their lives? did it change their fortunes back so that is what the book is about. >> thank you very much for your time. >> booktv is on twitter. follow wes for a regular update on our programming and news on nonfiction books and authors. twitter.com/booktv.